While empanadas filled with quinoa and goat cheese may sound trendy or gourmet, the truth is that these ingredients have long formed part of the culinary heritage of Northwest Argentina. Although quinoa first gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1990s as an alternative to wheat-based products, this grain-like crop has been harvested and consumed by Andean peoples in South America for thousands of years. Recently touted as a superfood for its numerous health benefits, quinoa’s not just good for you, but it tastes great and is simple to prepare.
Introduced by Spanish settlers in the 17thcentury, goats thrive in the semi-arid climate and mountainous terrain of the northwest region of Argentina. Today, goat cheese has become one of the region’s best-loved specialties. The cheese may be sampled alone or included in typical recipes such as tamales, humitas, or these empanadas from the province of Salta.
The goat cheese contributes its tangy flavor while quinoa lends a pleasant texture to the empanada filling. If you’re not a fan of goat cheese, you can substitute a milder cheese such as mozzarella. Also, I’ve provided a recipe for homemade empanada dough, but feel free to use store-bought empanada shells instead.
Empanadas de Quinoa y Queso de Cabra (Quinoa and Goat Cheese Empanadas)
Yields 16 empanada discs
4 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup lard, melted
brine [½ Tbsp. salt dissolved in 1 cup warm water]
Mound the flour on a clean work surface and make a well in the center. Add the lard and some of the brine to the well and blend with your fingers, adding more brine as necessary until a medium-stiff dough forms. Knead just until smooth. Divide the dough into four pieces, and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Let rest for 30 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of dough at a time, keeping the rest covered, to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut out circles measuring roughly 5 inches in diameter, using a bowl or saucer as a guide.
Yields 24 empanadas
½ cup dried quinoa [yields 1½ cups cooked quinoa]
1 cup water
4 ears corn, shucked
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 red pepper, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
10 oz. goat cheese, cut into small cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
small bowl of water
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tbsp. milk
For the filling: Thoroughly rinse dried quinoa under cool running water and drain in a fine-mesh sieve. In a small saucepan, add quinoa and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and then set aside for later use.
On the largest holes of a box grater, grate the corn into a bowl. Scrape the corncobs with a butter knife to remove the remaining milky liquid from the kernels.
In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the red pepper and onions, and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until soft and translucent. Add the grated corn and sauté briefly until liquid evaporates, stirring often. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Add the corn mixture, hard-boiled eggs, and goat cheese to the cooked quinoa, and mix the filling until well-combined. Adjust seasoning as needed. Allow the filling to completely cool before assembling the empanadas; if time allows, place the filling in the refrigerator for several hours to chill.
To assemble: Dip your finger in water and lightly wet the edge of the dough. Place a heaping tablespoonful of filling in the center of the empanada dough. Bring the edges of the dough together and press firmly. Seal the empanadas by pressing the tines of a fork around the edge of the empanada or by making a twisted edge known as a repulgue. If you’re interested in trying your hand at the repulgue, here’s a video that demonstrates an attractive rope edge. Place the empanada on a parchment-lined or lightly greased cookie sheet and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Continue assembling empanadas with the remaining dough.
To bake: Brush the empanadas lightly with egg wash. Bake in an oven preheated to 400ºF until golden brown, approximately 15 minutes.